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The IntCal family of radiocarbon (14C) calibration curves is based on research spanning more than three decades. The IntCal group have collated the 14C and calendar age data (mostly derived from primary publications with other types of data and meta-data) and, since 2010, made them available for other sorts of analysis through an open-access database. This has ensured transparency in terms of the data used in the construction of the ratified calibration curves. As the IntCal database expands, work is underway to facilitate best practice for new data submissions, make more of the associated metadata available in a structured form, and help those wishing to process the data with programming languages such as R, Python, and MATLAB. The data and metadata are complex because of the range of different types of archives. A restructured interface, based on the “IntChron” open-access data model, includes tools which allow the data to be plotted and compared without the need for export. The intention is to include complementary information which can be used alongside the main 14C series to provide new insights into the global carbon cycle, as well as facilitating access to the data for other research applications. Overall, this work aims to streamline the generation of new calibration curves.
To create a reliable radiocarbon calibration curve, one needs not only high-quality data but also a robust statistical methodology. The unique aspects of much of the calibration data provide considerable modeling challenges and require a made-to-measure approach to curve construction that accurately represents and adapts to these individualities, bringing the data together into a single curve. For IntCal20, the statistical methodology has undergone a complete redesign, from the random walk used in IntCal04, IntCal09 and IntCal13, to an approach based upon Bayesian splines with errors-in-variables. The new spline approach is still fitted using Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) but offers considerable advantages over the previous random walk, including faster and more reliable curve construction together with greatly increased flexibility and detail in modeling choices. This paper describes the new methodology together with the tailored modifications required to integrate the various datasets. For an end-user, the key changes include the recognition and estimation of potential over-dispersion in 14C determinations, and its consequences on calibration which we address through the provision of predictive intervals on the curve; improvements to the modeling of rapid 14C excursions and reservoir ages/dead carbon fractions; and modifications made to, hopefully, ensure better mixing of the MCMC which consequently increase confidence in the estimated curve.
The development of chronologies relies on integrating information from a number of different sources. In addition to direct dating evidence, such as radiocarbon dates, researchers will have contextual information which might be an environmental sequence or the context in an archaeological site. This information can be combined through Bayesian or other types of age-model. Once a chronology has been developed, this information can be used to estimate, for example, chronological uncertainties, rates of change, or the age of material which has not been directly dated.
Dealing with the information associated with chronology building is complicated and re-evaluation of chronologies often requires structured information which is hard to access. Although there are many databases with primary dating information, these often do not contain all of the information needed for a chronology. The Chronological Query Language (CQL) developed for OxCal was intended to be a convenient way of pulling such information together for Bayesian analysis. However, even this does not include much of the associated information required for reusing data in other analyses.
The IntChron initiative builds on the framework set up for the INTIMATE (Integrating Ice core, Marine and Terrestrial Records) chronological database (Bronk Ramsey et al. 2014) and is primarily an information exchange format and data visualization tool which enables users to pull together the types of information needed for chronological analysis. It is intended for use with multiple dating methodologies and while it will be integrated with OxCal, is intended to be an open format suitable for use with other software tools. The file format is JSON which is easily readable in software such as R, Python and MatLab. IntChron is not primarily intended to be a data depository but rather an index of sites where information is stored in the relevant format. As an initial step, databases of radiocarbon dates from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit (including those for the NERC radiocarbon facility), the RESET tephra database, the INTIMATE chronological database and regional radiocarbon databases for Egypt and Southern Africa are all linked. The intention is that users of OxCal will also be able to make published data accessible to others and to store working data, visible only to the user, to be used with the associated analysis tools. The IntChron site allows data from third party sources to be accessed through a representational state transfer (REST) application programming interface (API) in a number of different formats (JSON, csv, txt, oxcal) and associated bibliographic information in BibTeX format.
The aim of the IntChron initiative is to make it easy for users to provide data (in the single JSON format with limited minimum requirements) as well as to access data and tools, while promoting robust chronologies including realistic estimates of uncertainties. It is hoped that this will help to bring the chronological research communities to a point where data access is as easy as it is in some other fields. This is particularly important for Early Career Researchers and for those seeking to use large datasets in novel ways.
The Ziegler Reservoir fossil site near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA), provides a unique opportunity to reconstruct high-altitude paleoenvironmental conditions in the Rocky Mountains during the Last Interglacial Period. We used four different techniques to establish a chronological framework for the site. Radiocarbon dating of lake organics, bone collagen, and shell carbonate, and in situ cosmogenic 10Be and 26Al ages on a boulder on the crest of a moraine that impounded the lake suggest that the ages of the sediments that hosted the fossils are between ~140 ka and >45 ka. Uranium-series ages of vertebrate remains generally fall within these bounds, but extremely low uranium concentrations and evidence of open-system behavior limit their utility. Optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) ages (n = 18) obtained from fine-grained quartz maintain stratigraphic order, were replicable, and provide reliable ages for the lake sediments. Analysis of the equivalent dose (DE) dispersion of the OSL samples showed that the sediments were fully bleached prior to deposition and low scatter suggests that eolian processes were likely the dominant transport mechanism for fine-grained sediments into the lake. The resulting ages show that the fossil-bearing sediments span the latest part of Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 6, all of MIS 5 and MIS 4, and the earliest part of MIS 3.
A ca. 1400-yr record from a raised bog in Isla Grande, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina, registers climate fluctuations, including a Medieval Warm Period, although evidence for the ‘Little Ice Age’ is less clear. Changes in temperature and/or precipitation were inferred from plant macrofossils, pollen, fungal spores, testate amebae, and peat humification. The chronology was established using a 14C wiggle-matching technique that provides improved age control for at least part of the record compared to other sites. These new data are presented and compared with other lines of evidence from the Southern and Northern Hemispheres. A period of low local water tables occurred in the bog between A.D. 960–1020, which may correspond to the Medieval Warm Period date range of A.D. 950–1045 generated from Northern Hemisphere tree-ring data. A period of cooler and/or wetter conditions was detected between ca. A.D. 1030 and 1100 and a later period of cooler/wetter conditions estimated at ca. cal A.D. 1800–1930, which may correspond to a cooling episode inferred from Law Dome, Antarctica.
In North America, terrestrial records of biodiversity and climate change that span Marine Oxygen Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 are rare. Where found, they provide insight into how the coupling of the ocean–atmosphere system is manifested in biotic and environmental records and how the biosphere responds to climate change. In 2010–2011, construction at Ziegler Reservoir near Snowmass Village, Colorado (USA) revealed a nearly continuous, lacustrine/wetland sedimentary sequence that preserved evidence of past plant communities between ~140 and 55 ka, including all of MIS 5. At an elevation of 2705 m, the Ziegler Reservoir fossil site also contained thousands of well-preserved bones of late Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, mammoths, ground sloths, horses, camels, deer, bison, black bear, coyotes, and bighorn sheep. In addition, the site contained more than 26,000 bones from at least 30 species of small animals including salamanders, otters, muskrats, minks, rabbits, beavers, frogs, lizards, snakes, fish, and birds. The combination of macro- and micro-vertebrates, invertebrates, terrestrial and aquatic plant macrofossils, a detailed pollen record, and a robust, directly dated stratigraphic framework shows that high-elevation ecosystems in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado are climatically sensitive and varied dramatically throughout MIS 5.
Recently, Bayesian statistical software has been developed for age-depth modeling (“wiggle-match dating”) of sequences of densely spaced radiocarbon dates from peat cores. The method is described in non-statistical terms, and is compared with an alternative method of chronological ordering of 14C dates. Case studies include the dating of the start of agriculture in the northeastern part of the Netherlands, and of a possible Hekla-3 tephra layer in the same country. We discuss future enhancements in Bayesian age modeling.
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